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Jack—Not Jill—Went up the Hill

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Science Translational Medicine  10 Oct 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 155, pp. 155ec181
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3005075

Despite increasing efforts to recruit and retain women, gender bias persists in the sciences. The discrepancy between the number of women who move on to junior faculty positions after receiving Ph.D.s and the number of men who do so suggests that a bottleneck may exist at this stage. Moss-Racusin and colleagues have now examined whether subtle gender bias on the part of faculty may be actively impeding the advancement of female candidates. To address this question, the authors conducted a double-blind, randomized study to evaluate the preferences of 127 tenure-track faculty members in biology, chemistry, and physics at six unnamed, prestigious, research-intensive universities across the country. The faculty were asked to evaluate a candidate with an undergraduate degree for a scientific lab manager position. Faculty participants rated a standardized applicant who had been randomly assigned either a male or female name. Irrespective of their own gender, faculty participants rated the male applicant as more competent, hirable, and worthy of mentoring than the identical female applicant.

The participants offered the male candidate a salary that was more than 10% higher than that offered to the identical female candidate ($30,238.10 versus $26,507.94; P < 0.01). They also rated the male candidate as more competent (P < 0.0001) and offered him more mentoring (P < 0.0001). Female faculty did not rate the female candidate as more competent, or offer her a higher salary or more mentoring, than the male candidate. Rather, gender bias was noted irrespective of whether a female or male faculty member performed the evaluation. Male faculty offered the male candidate the highest mean salary ($30,520.83), whereas female faculty offered the female student the lowest salary ($25,000). Faculty participants’ scientific field, age, and tenure status had no effect (all P > 0.53). Thus, bias appears pervasive among faculty and is not limited to a certain demographic subgroup.

Consonant with other studies, the authors noted that the faculty participants reported liking the female-gender-assigned candidate more than the identical male-gender-assigned candidate. Nevertheless, the increased likeability of the female candidate did not translate into positive perceptions of her competence nor concrete measures such as a job offer, equitable salary, or career mentoring. These findings raise substantial concerns about gender objectivity in candidate hiring by both female and male faculty in the sciences. Changes in university policy will be needed to ensure that gender blinding and objective transparent measures are actively implemented at the initial hiring stage by both male and female faculty.

C. A. Moss-Racusin et al., Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 17 September 2012 (10.1073/pnas.1211286109). [Abstract]

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